Native Village 
Youth and Education News

October, 2013

SCSU professor Annette Lee helps viewers see the sky as Native Americans did
Condensed by Native Village

Minnesota: Annette Lee is assistant professor of astronomy and physics at St. Cloud State University. Whenever she brings up the stars in the school's planetarium, her audience gains new understandings of the night sky.

For instance, the Big Dipper that is part of the constellation Ursa Major also forms the fisher, called Ojiig in Ojibwe. The dipperís ladle forms the curve of the fisherís tail.








Click to visit webpage with large map, vocabulary, audio, and curriculum resources.

In Ojibwe culture the fisher is a clever, fierce and brave animal and a good fighter. It climbed a pine tree and jumped through a hole in the sky to bring back the birds and, therefore, Spring.

Fishers are always moving, sleeping for just a few hours before returning to the hunt. Like the fisher, the Big Dipper is constantly on the move in the sky.

On the Dakota star map, the Big Dipper contains the Blue Spirit Woman, who helps newborns pass from the star world to Earth and back again.

Through the Native Starwatchers Project, Lee introduces teachers in Minnesota and across the U.S. to Dakota and Ojibwe constellations and the stories they carry. MN teachers tune in because they are required to teach how other cultures, including the stateís American Indian tribes, have contributed to science.

ďI think itís important for people to understand that although the mainstream science uses Europe and Greek (constellations), itís important to know it comes from a certain culture,Ē Lee said. ďThere are many ways of knowing, and thatís just one way.Ē

Lee's main audience is Native American youth.  She said learning about the constellations offers them a source of pride.

ďItís really giving them another connection and a connection to something thatís scientifically and culturally and spiritually based. Itís a message of hope,Ē Lee said.

Click to visit webpage with large map, vocabulary, audio, and curriculum resources.

Lee came to St. Cloud State University five years ago from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. Her current position enables her to use her double major in art and astronomy from the UC Berkeley. She's also earned masterís degrees in painting from Yale and in astrophysics from Washington University in St. Louis.

Lee collaborated on a project to create Ojibwe and Dakota star maps, which were printed last year. She's now writing two short books to augment the maps, provide more detailed constellation images, and expand upon the stories behind them.

ďEver since I can remember Iíve had a lot of dreams about stars and so I think itís taken me 44 years to understand the meaning of that but it was really my guiding light,Ē Lee said.

Her grandfather was Dakota, and she attended traditional ceremonies with him. Learning the native constellations was the next step. At that time, two books existed on the topic ó one about Dakota stars, one about Ojibwe stars.

Lee hopes her efforts helps native people gain a better sense of their history ó a history where stories were spoken, not written.

ďPart of itís recognizing all different cultures,"  Lee said.  "We all have our connection to the stars, and thatís one of the few things in this day and age that connects us.Ē

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